by Kari Diviney
The first time I ever visited West Virginia University was to see my big brother, Ryan Diviney, for a weekend. I was a high school senior at that time and he was at the beginning of his sophomore year at WVU. Ryan had a 3.8 GPA and was destined for great things.
This first time I ever visited Ryan at WVU was also the last time I would ever truly be with Ryan… the Ryan without traumatic brain injury.
Ryan loved West Virginia University. It was all that he would talk about. He loved his friends, the football, the people of Morgantown and West Virginia, and of course…. the ladies. I can honestly say I had never seen my brother happier.
Ryan begged me to visit for the WVU “night-game”, which every WVU student knows is the football game of the year. I was flattered that my big brother, who was always so much cooler than me, wanted to hang out with me. See, as we were finally growing into young adults, were just beginning to get close in a more meaningful way… and nothing meant more to me than Ryan wanting me to visit him at his school.
I had the best weekend of my life. We played cornhole & beerpong, we tailgated, we went to parties… then finished the night with food from R U Hungry (now known as Sandwich U). We did it all. I got the true Morgantown Experience. Little did I know he set this all up in hopes that I, too, would apply to WVU.
When I learned Ryan wanted me to join him at WVU it brought tears to my eyes. My whole life I wanted to be close to my brother and it was all finally happening. Ryan even helped me apply for early enrollment. He told me everything to put on my application in hopes that I would become a Mountaineer with him.
After I applied Ryan texted me that he wanted me to come visit again for Halloween, but unfortunately I was sick.
I still wish more than anything that I went that weekend… because then I would’ve seen him one last time.
One week later my brother and his friend (and roommate) Brian McLhinney and another acquaintance (Tyler Johnson) crossed paths with a group of strangers outside the downtown Morgantown Dairy Mart. The World Series was coming up and the group and my brother exchanged words on who was going to win.
Then things took a turn for the worst.
This group didn’t want to have a simple debate on sports. They were looking for a fight that night. In the Dairy Mart surveillance you can that group of strangers circling around my brother. Next my brother back-pedaled out of the group and out of the frame to try and get away.
Two members of the group, now known as Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May, started attacking Tyler Johnson and Brian McLhinney. Brian was knocked unconscious — while standing with his hands in his pockets — by Austin Vantrease. He was bleeding profusely and suffered a lasting jaw injury. As my brother started toward Brian to offer aid, Jonathan May sucker-punched Ryan from behind. Ryan, as was reported by a witness, was punched so hard — and without warning — that his feet swept-up from under him and his head was the first thing to hit the ground. Ryan’s head hit a raised steel grate and was immediately knocked unconscious.
As my brother lay defenseless and unconscious, Austin Vantrease took a running start and kicked my motionless and defenseless brother squarely in the head. The kick was described as so brutal that it looked as though Vantrease was “punting a football.”
My brother immediately stared seizing. The damage was irreversibly done. Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May ran behind the nearest dumpster (also caught on tape and testimony,) and just watched as my brother was having a seizure while every hole in his head was bleeding out. Then they ran and left him there for dead.
Ever since my brother has never been the same. Ryan now has Traumatic Brain Injury and is in a minimally conscious state. Ryan is in an “eyes-open” coma. Ryan can’t smile, laugh, talk, walk, eat, or do anything voluntary.
Ryan is gone.
Sometimes I think it was fate that I visited Ryan that weekend in the autumn. Like I was meant to be with him one last time. I hold the memories of that weekend closely and replay them every single day. It makes me feel like Ryan is still here.
I knew Ryan wanted me to attend West Virginia University more than anything, and that’s exactly what I did. I respected my brother’s wishes and began that following fall. A lot of people ask me how I did it… how I could bear to be where Ryan was… and walk the streets he walked… or go into the same buildings he did… or re-visit the places I was last with him. The answer is easy.
Because he wanted me there.
My four years at WVU made me feel like a piece of Ryan was still with me. It made me feel like a part of Ryan was still alive. I wanted to be where Ryan loved. I want to experience what Ryan experienced. It made me feel close to Ryan. I felt like I was MEANT to be there.
The hardest part of graduating for me was knowing that I would be leaving the place “twenty year old Ryan” was left. Ryan is now twenty-four. It’s been over four and a half years since his brutal beating. I was in high school at the time, and now I have graduated from college.
That hurts! That is, perhaps, what hurts the most. I feel as though I am older than my older brother.
…Ryan should’ve been there.
…Ryan should’ve experienced the whole college experience.
…Ryan and I should’ve gone to WVU together.
…Ryan should’ve been the one who graduated.
…Ryan should be here.
And it kills me… time marches on for me, but Ryan will forever been a sophomore at West Virginia University.
Please share his story.